Not surprisingly, politics in the state attorney general’s race have seeped into the business of the King County Council, where AG candidates Reagan Dunn and Bob Ferguson both serve.
The latest instance occurred Tuesday when a committee vote on a study led to all kinds of charges: Ferguson fired off a news release that Dunn missed a crucial vote; Dunn responded that Ferguson had unethically forced the vote only because Dunn left the room; and Kathy Lambert, chair of the Law and Justice Committee, said Ferguson “threw a tantrum.”
Here’s what happened: Lambert’s committee held a hearing on a motion that sought to ask County Executive Dow Constantine to conduct a study on the feasibility of starting a gang court similar to one in Yakima County.
Testimony came mostly from public defenders who expressed concerns about labeling and stigmatizing young offenders as gang members in court. A council analyst said he didn’t think the proposal was ready for a vote. But to Lambert’s surprise, Ferguson called for a vote on the motion. The vote was two in favor (Ferguson and Joe McDermott) and two against (Lambert and Larry Gossett). And Dunn, a co-sponsor of the motion, was absent, having left the meeting shortly before Ferguson insisted on a vote.
In a tie vote the motion essentially died in committee.
Ferguson sent out his news release, saying Dunn’s “dismal voting record was on full display” at the meeting. He pointed to a Seattle Times article that confirmed that Dunn had missed more full council votes (491) than any other member during his tenure. He also noted that Dunn had left early during last week’s joint city-county hearing on a proposed new sports arena.
But Lambert had a different take on the events. She said she told Ferguson the issue was not supposed to come up for a vote; she said she agreed to a courtesy hearing on the motion because Ferguson was eager to move the idea forward. But she, too, had concerns about the wisdom of creating a gang court and wanted to see more data, particularly from a study being conducted by the Center for Children & Youth Justice that was due by the year’s end. And, she said, Dunn had a meeting scheduled elsewhere that afternoon.
Although the committee agenda listed the gang-court study for a possible vote, Lambert said that was a mistake by her staff.
Ferguson “was told months ago Reagan had a meeting and there wasn’t supposed to be a vote,” she said. Ferguson’s news release about Dunn was “just Bob having a temper tantrum,” she said, because the motion did not pass.
Dunn noted that he stayed at the committee meeting for about an hour, voted on two matters, and left for a campaign-related meeting with the Washington State Medical Association. He missed two other votes: one to accept a report on the county’s automated fingerprint system; another to approve a new contract between the county and the employees in the Department of Adult and Juvenile Detention.
“What happened was Ferguson saw me leave and forced a vote,” Dunn said. “To me that’s unethical legislating.”
Dunn said he would’ve voted against the motion as crafted because of the skeptical testimony and lack of data from Yakima about its experience with a gang court. He said Ferguson should have asked him how to secure his vote and “worked it like every other piece of legislation.”
Gossett, who supports Ferguson’s campaign for attorney general but opposed the study, said he wasn’t aware of any agreement not to hold a vote Tuesday.
Ferguson stood by his actions, saying he pushed a vote because he thought it was important to get the study going. “Other folks may want to wait. I’m not interested in waiting to address the gang problem,” he said.
He didn’t realize Dunn had left the meeting for good, he said. But he added: “He had other priorities that afternoon; he has to defend that.”
As for the purported agreement with Lambert, Ferguson said: “The facts are straightforward. The item was listed for possible action.”
What about the staff report that the motion wasn’t ready yet? “Our job is to make independent judgments, not listen to staff reports,” he said.
And in a related note, Ferguson has criticized Dunn’s voting record in a YouTube ad that uses footage from TVW, the state’s version of C-SPAN. TVW has long had a policy forbidding use of its footage for political campaigns, and has castigated Ferguson for going against that. Ferguson maintains that it’s legal to use the footage and he will continue to because “voters are entitled to see it.”
There is a footnote to all of this. Dunn’s full-council voting record was the worst when the Times did its analysis last month, based on records through the first-quarter of 2012. But more recent records that include the second-quarter of this year show that Jane Hague eclipsed Dunn for the worst record with 502 missed full-council votes, while Dunn held at 491, now second-worst.